messenger:Pastor Jim Allison
I Timothy 6:6-12, 17-19
How to Be Rich
I want to talk with you today about how to be rich. You may be thinking, “Don’t you mean how to get rich?” No, that’s a whole different question, and I’ll leave it to the experts in finance to talk about that. If I knew very much about that, I would probably already have a lot more money than I do. But I want to focus on how to be rich. In today’s Bible reading, Paul is writing as an experienced older minister to Timothy, a younger leader in the still-new Christian Church. Among the people that Timothy serves as a minister, some are rich. That is true of today’s churches, too.
But before we even really start learning, you may be feeling, “He’s not talking to me today because I’m not rich.” Well, who is rich? We may compare ourselves to extremely wealthy people and decide we don’t have much. But Branko Milanovic, an expert at the World Bank, has written that to be in the top 1 percent of income worldwide, you only need to have an income of about \4,000,000 per year. If you look at the facts that way, many of us are rich.
Some people have done surveys to measure how much money people think they need in order to be called rich. A simple version of the results is this: “Double my income.” But the funny thing is, people with higher incomes generally don’t answer that way less than people with lower incomes. Human beings with more money have a way of thinking that somehow it isn’t enough to make us rich. Someone famously asked a question to John D. Rockefeller, a leader in building the U.S. oil industry and the richest man in the world at one time. “How much money is enough money?”
He answered, “Just a little bit more.”
Human beings today have many troubles that grow out of the way we think about money and things it buys. It was true in Timothy’s time, too. It seems that the rich Christians he knew weren’t very good at being rich. In our time, too, some people are wealthy but aren’t very good at it. A lot of money goes through their hands, but it doesn’t lead them to happiness or help them make others happier. In fact, for some it can be the very reason they are not free, not at peace, not happy.
“Money is the root of all evil.” Have you ever heard the Bible misquoted this way? It is not money but the love of money that is the problem, Paul says. Our problem is not our money but how we think and believe about it. It is the place that we give it in our lives.
So I want to learn with you from God’s word today how to be rich, that is, how to use your riches well. His teachings can help us become able to use and not be used by money. They can empower us to use riches in ways that lead to and not away from true happiness, a full life, a rich life.
I feel led to talk more next time on giving to God’s work in particular. But for today, let’s focus on the roles money plays in our lives in general. To do that, let’s find the answers that the God of the Bible gives to three questions:
A. What does it mean to be rich?
B. How does becoming rich in money impact people’s lives?
C. What does God want rich people to do?
1. What does it mean to be rich? Jesus showed His disciples that there is more than one kind of richness. Some people have a lot of money. Others may have less money but a rich imagination, or they may be rich in friends, experiences or knowledge.
But no matter what kind of thing you have, if you believe you don’t have enough of it, you are not going to be happy. So to be truly rich, you have to have contentment, the Bible teaches. If you don’t, money will destroy you. For one thing, it can cost you your faith. Paul says in v. 10b “Some people want to get rich. They have wandered away from the faith. They have wounded themselves with many sorrows.”
So we need to be content. But how? By having all you want, right? No, we’ve already seen the problem with that. Our “wanters” are broken. We don’t even want the things we really need, and no matter how much we get of other things, we never feel like they are enough. So just trying to get all you want is a trap. But what if you could learn instead to want only what you have? Then the endless desire for more would not control you.
Paul has learned that. That is why he says to Timothy (v. 6), “You gain a lot when you live a godly life.” Of course he didn’t just think this up by himself. He learned it from the master teacher, Jesus. He said (Luke 12:15), “Watch out! Be on your guard against wanting to have more and more things. Life is not made up of how much a person has.” We make a serious mistake when we come to believe that our importance as a human being is tied to how many things we have. The moment we believe that lie, we begin walking down the road that leads to slavery, a bondage that keeps us from living as free, fulfilled, content people.
Jesus offers a better way. He contrasts a person “who stores things away for himself” with someone who is “rich in God's eyes” (Luke 12:21), or “rich toward God” (King James Version). We need to discover and rediscover and grow into the richness of spirit that is available to us in knowing Christ. Then we can begin to grow rich as whole people in ways far beyond what money has the power to help us do.
Someone told of going to stay in a monastery for a few days. When he checked into his guest room, he saw a sign on the door. “Welcome. We hope you have a great stay here. If there is anything you want, just let us know, and we will be glad to tell you how you can get along without it.” Let’s join that man on the journey of discovering a deeper richness that does not depend on the power of money.
2. Next let’s turn to how becoming rich impacts people. As you know, it can influence us in ways that build up or tear down, support or destroy, heal or harm. Let’s look at the downside first, the dangers that being rich brings.
Paul tells Timothy (v. 9):
People who want to get rich are tempted. They fall into a trap. They are tripped up by wanting many foolish and harmful things. Those who live like that are dragged down by what they do. They are destroyed and die.”
When he uses the image of falling into a trap, Paul is using a Greek word that means noose. This was used to catch birds. Once they realized they were in it, it was too late to get out. Have you ever been in a financial situation like that? Many people and some churches have felt like that after taking on debt. The choice to go in debt is one that Christians should make only after seeking God’s leading in much prayer.
But even if you don’t go into debt, if you just spend your money on yourself, a strange thing begins to happen, many people notice. The ability to enjoy the money often becomes less and less. People become used to it. It comes to feel normal, not special. Luxuries become “necessities.” It can seem there is something wrong if the money is not there any more, but the thrill of having it is gone. That’s the typical pattern of addiction, whether it is
money or drugs or whatever. If you notice this happening in your life, you are in bondage and need to be set free. Many come to realize that we don’t possess money any more. More, it has come to possess us.
Money has power to deceive. It has the ability to blind us to itself so that we cannot see the damage it is doing to our lives. Pastor Tim Keller reports that people often come to him confessing sins. Some confess adultery, the habit of looking at pornography, and other sins. But almost no one comes and confesses greed, he says. They don’t see what it is doing to them.
There is another shift that takes place when we gain more money. The way we see ourselves often changes. For example, we can come to see ourselves as needing more than before. Once we buy more expensive things, we can come to feel we have to buy insurance, accessories, and other things to match the whole lifestyle we have begun to enjoy. Likewise, we can begin to see ourselves as better or more important or more attractive than we used to be because we have nice things now. We begin to base our hopes, plans, self-image, even identity on how much money we have.
Riches damage the quality of your life when you believe the lie that they make you a more important person. There is a temptation to think that you have more than others in different areas of life such as intelligence or skill, too, just because you have more money than others. So Paul says Christians need to learn “not to be proud” (v. 17). There is also the temptation on the other hand to think you are less important than others just because some have more money than you do. So money can poison your life, either by its presence or its absence. If you compare yourself to the others you went to school with, if you see how much more they have than you, if you are jealous of them, if you think badly of yourself and your life, you are in bondage, a slave to money, even if you don’t have it.
The problem with money is, whether you are rich or poor, inside each income category, there is a range of incomes. Not everyone who is rich is equally rich, of course, and not everyone who is poor is equally poor. In other words, no matter how much you have, there are almost always people around you who are pretty much like you but have more than you do. If you let yourself focus on how you compare to the people around you, it is very easy to feel that you don’t have quite enough. If you play the comparing game, whether you have a little or a lot, it’s never enough.
Money also deceives by telling the lie that you are OK if you have it. Our problem often is not stinginess at its heart. It is fear. Money promises security, even though it cannot actually give enough of it.
Money tells the lie that you can feel better about yourself if you have it. “If I had more money, I wouldn’t have self-doubts, I wouldn’t worry, I would like myself more.” Actually, when people get more money, life often gets worse in these areas. Many pastors and counselors could tell you this from the experiences of people who come to them and tell their stories. Money makes all these promises, but it can’t keep them very well. The Christian gospel, though, meets your true needs for a positive self-image. It meets them by leading you into a relationship with the living God, the only source of the deepest love. No one has yet fully understood how important he or she is to God. His love is that vast. It makes possible for us a life of true richness.
When people gain money, relationships with others are also easily changed. If we become rich, some people will come to see us differently. They may envy us, want to compete, or whatever. Or we may think, “If I had more money, I would get along with my family better. I wouldn’t be jealous of my friends.” But people who have problems in these areas often find that they still have them after they gain more money.
With money bringing these types of changes into our lives, it is no surprise that receiving a great amount of money has led some people not to great happiness but to loss of friends, divorce, deep debt, court, or worse.
Now we’ve seen several different ways that money can impact us in damaging ways. But its influence does not have to be all bad. There are also great opportunities that having money brings. In verses 17-19, Paul presents money as a very useful tool, we could say. In v. 17 writing about God, he says, “He richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” In other words, money can be a way that God uses to help us enjoy life. Because of His love, He wants us to enjoy the gifts He gives us.
But He doesn’t want us to do it selfishly. In v. 18 Paul says that Christians need to learn to share. There are things of great, great value that you can only receive by giving away what you have. One of life’s great paradoxes is that often it’s the things you have given away that bring rewards you can keep for eternity. On Father’s Day, many of us can remember the things our fathers have done for us. From changing diapers to just playing together to paying for schooling, they have enriched us greatly. By choosing not to spend all their time and money just for themselves, they have created something of lasting meaning in us, just as our mothers have. We are happy to remember them, but we also need to apply the same principle to our own lives. By giving, we gain.
Then in verse 19: “In that way [by giving] they will put riches away for themselves. It will provide a firm basis for the next life. Then they will take hold of the life that really is life.” In other words, if we use money in the ways God teaches, it can help us grow rich spiritually, in relationship with Him.
3. Now we have seen more of the different ways we can be rich, that most of us are in fact rich financially, and how money can impact our lives. Finally, let’s
learn what God wants us rich people to do. In verse 6 He teaches us, “. . . Be happy with what you have.” In verse 8 he shows an attitude we can use: “If we have food and clothing, we will be happy with that.” If you choose to take that view of money and material possessions, it will change your life profoundly. (There are important differences between Christian faith and Buddhism, but at the point of the need to be free from destructive desires, we share a great deal with our Buddhist friends. Taking the attitude Paul teaches here can help us seek freedom from greed with those of other faiths.)
He continues in 11a, “But you are a man of God.” Before telling exactly what we should do, he starts with identity, reminding believers first about who we are. Only then does he move to specific actions, behaviors, keeping rules. Our identity as children of God is the basis for moral actions such as using money well. About the temptations money can bring, he tells Timothy (11b-12a):
Run away from all of those things. Try hard to do what is right and godly. Have faith, love and gentleness. Hold on to what you believe. Fight the good fight along with all other believers. Take hold of eternal life.
These things may not relate to money directly, but that is really the point. If you set your sights on other things than money, you have a far greater chance to discover deeper happiness.
Then Paul continues in verses 17-18 about the believers Timothy is serving. He is to teach them “not to be proud” and “not to put their hope in riches” but to “put their hope in God.” They are to “do what is good” and “be rich in doing good things.” The Lord wants them to “give freely,” echoing Jesus words in Matthew 10:8. “You have received freely, so give freely.”
In one of His stories, Jesus tells His listeners to use our money to gain friends. Then when the money fails, we’ll still have something valuable. That’s wise. That’s “life indeed” or “the life that really is life,” as Paul calls it in v. 19.
To sum up all we’ve learned today, if you put your focus on pleasing God and helping others, you can better learn to be free from the power of money. And when you do need to think about money, the best way to enjoy it is to spend it making others happy. Or, to put it another way, God has given us as His people the amazing riches of grace and justification. Through Jesus’ death and return to life, He has made a way for us to be right with Him and each other. Knowing this is the basis for real contentment. When we have that, we can learn to use money as a tool, not as a substitute for God.
Lord, you know our needs. You made us so that we need a certain amount of money to live. You also know our weaknesses, how easily we fall into the sin of trusting money to meet our needs instead of relying on you. Father, help us to learn to receive what you give us and let that be enough. Help us to be people who know the beauty and goodness of enough. Teach us, God, to trust you in the decisions we make each day so that money will play the part in our lives that you in your wise and loving plans want it to play. In Christ’s name, amen.
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Keller, T. (November 8, 2009). “Hope and Money.” Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Retrieved May 26, 2015 from http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/hope-and-money
Milanovic, B. (2010). The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality. New York: Basic Books.
Moll, R. (December 5, 2008). “Scrooge Lives!” Christianity Today. Retrieved May 4, 2015 from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/ december/10.24.html
New World Encyclopedia. (October 5, 2011). “John D. Rockefeller.” Retrieved June 17, 2015 from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/ John_D._Rockefeller
Scruggs, S. (October 26, 2014). “How to Be Rich.” Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Retrieved June 20, 2015 from http://mppc.org/sermons/live-give-how-be-rich
Stedman, R. (November 21, 1981). “The Cost of Riches.” Peninsula Bible Church. Retrieved May 24, 2015 from https://www.pbc.org/system/message_ files/5400/3780.mp3